Fax Cover Sheet

HON. GB&ALD W. CONNOLLY
m± 518/285-8592
Fax: 518/487*53.78
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STATE OF NEW YOR K
SUPR EME COUR T COUNTY OF ALBANY
AIR .BNB, INC., DECISION AND ORDER
Petitioner, Index No. 5393-13
-against-
ER IC T. SCHNEIDER MAN, ATTOR NEY
GENER AL OF THE STATE OF NEW YOR K,
R espondent.
Supreroe Court, AlbanyCounty,
Justice Gerald W. Connolly, Presiding
APPEAR ANCES: R oberta A. Kaplan, Esq.
Maria T. Vullo, Esq.
Paul, Weiss, R ifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP
Attorneys for Petitioner
1285 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10019-6064
And
Terence L. Kindlon, Esq.
Kindlon Shanks & Associates
- 74 Chapel Street
Albany, NY 12207
Clark R ussell, Esq. - Asst. AttorneyGeneral
Karla G. Sanchez, Esq. - Executive DeputyAttorneyGeneral
Economic Justice Division
R andal] Fox, Esq. - Bureau Chief Taxpayer Protection Bureau
Attorneys for the R espondent
Office of the New York State AttorneyGeneral
120 Broadway
New York, NY 10271
Fiona J. Kaye, Esq.
Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, LLP
Attorneys for The Internet Association
250 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10007
And
-l-
Patrick J. Carome, Esq.
Samir Jain, Esq.
Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, LLP
1875 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20006
R obert W. Jones, Esq.
Attorneys for The Electronic Frontier Foundation and
The Center for Democracyand Technology
75 TroyR oad
East Gxeenbush, NY 12061
And
Matthew Zimmerman, Esq.
Electronic Frontier Foundation
85 EddyStreet
San Francisco, CA 94109
And
GregoryT. Nojeim, Esq.
Center for Democracyand Tech.
1634 Eye Street NW, Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20006
Connolly, J.:
Before the court is the Application of Airbnb, Inc. ("petitioner") for the quashing of a
subpoena served in the matter of an investigation byAttorneyGeneral Eric T. Schneiderman
relating to petitioner's clients that rent apartments located in New York State via petitioner's
Internet platform.
1
The subpoena commands that, "...pursuant to the Executive Law §63(12) and
§2302(a) of the New York Civil Practice Law and R ules", petitioner produce:
1. An Excel spreadsheet Identifying all Hosts that rent Accommodation(s) in New York
State, including: (a) name, physical and email address, and other contact information; (b)
Website user name; (c) address of the Accommodation(s) rented, including unit or
apartment number; (d) the dates, duration of guest stay, and the rates charged for the
rental of each associated Accommodation; (e) method of payment to Host including
'The Court held oral argument on April 22,2014. ByLetter Decision and Order of
December 5,2013, the Court granted (i) the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for
Democracyand Technologyand (ii) The Internet Association leave to file amicus curias briefs.
account information; and (f) total gross revenue per Host generated for the rental of the
Accommodation(s) through Your Website, The Excel spreadsheet should be capable of
being organized bygross revenue per Host and per Accommodation.
2. For each Host identified in response to R equest No. 1, Documents sufficient to Identify
all tax-related communications Your Website has had with the Host, including tax
inquiries or tax document requests whether initiated bythe Host or You.
Petitioner provides an Internet platform connecting individuals who offer
accommodations ("Hosts") to individuals who wish to book accommodations ("Guests"). If the
parties agree on the price and terms, theycan complete the transaction, including payment, via
such platform. Petitioner brings the instant proceeding to quash the subpoena on the grounds,
inter alia, that the challenged subpoena is without factual basis, overbroad and unduly
burdensome.
R espondent opposes the application and has cross-moved for an order to compel
compliance with the subpoena, asserting that the subpoena is within the broad investigatory
authorityof the New York State AttorneyGeneral and was issued in the context of an
investigation into potentiallyillegal activitybypetitioner's Hosts in renting their apartments and
failing to payrequired state and local taxes.
Petitioner' s.Claims
Petitioner asserts specificallythat the instant subpoena should be quashed as: (i) there is
no reasonable, articulable basis to warrant such investigation and the subpoena constitutes an
unfounded "fishing expedition"; (ii) anyinvestigation is based upon laws that are
unconstitutionallyvague; (iii) the subpoena is overbroad and burdensome; and (iv) the subpoena
seeks confidential, private information from petitioner's users.
Standard
The AttorneyGeneral has the authorityunder Executive Law §63 (12) to investigate
allegations of possible violations of the law, and this authorityencompasses the abilityto serve
subpoenas (see, e.g., In the Matter of American Dental Cooperative, Inc., v. Attorney-General of
the State of New York, 127 AD2d 274 [l
5t
Dept 1987]). Upon a motion contesting a subpoena,
the AttorneyGeneral "need onlyshow that the records and books which he seeks bear a
reasonable relation to the subject-matter under investigation and to the public purpose to be
achieved. He does not, it is true, have arbitraryand unbridled discretion as to the scope of his
investigation, but, unless the subpoena calls for documents which are utterlyirrelevant to any
proper inquiryor its futility *** to uncover anything legitimate is inevitable or obvious, the
courts will be slow to strike it down." (Matter of La Belle Creole International, S.A., v Attorney-
General of the State of New York, 10 NY2d 192 [1961] [internal citations and quotations
omitted]),
FactualBasis
Petitioner alleges that the AttorneyGeneral has no factual basis for the issuance of the
subpoena, and is using petitioner as "an arm of its investigatorystaff in order to help it determine
what the current hotel tax and occupancylaws mean in the context of Airbnb or to determine
how to applythe law" (Airbnb Memo of Law, pg 6). Petitioner argues, initially, that respondent
has failed to articulate anybasis for its subpoena and has failed to conduct anyinvestigation to
determine wrongdoing byAirbnb or its users.
In opposition to the motion to quash and in support of its cross-motion to compel, the
AttorneyGeneral has submitted, inter alia, the affidavit of Vanessa Ip and the affirmations of
Clark P. R ussell and R andall M. Fox.
The law requires that some factual basis be demonstrated to support a subpoena. In
-4-
Myerson v. Lentini Bros Moving and Storage Co., 33 NY2d 250,256 [1973], the Court of
Appeals stated, in pertinent part, that the agencyasserting its subpoena power must show
"...some basis for inquisitorial action", (citing to A 'Hparn v, Committee on Unlawful Practice of
Law ofN. Y. County Lawyers' Assn, 23 NY2d 916 [1968]), though this showing does not need to
reach a level of probable cause. Myerson held, in a review of subpoenas issued bythe
Commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs of New York City, not onlythat probable
cause was not required, but also that the required level does ngt need to constitute a "strong and
probative basis for the investigation" (Id. at 258). Myerson weighed the scope and basis for the
issuance of the subpoena against the factual predicate for the investigation "...lest the powers of
investigation, especiallyin local agencies, become potentiallyinstruments of abuse and
harassment" (Id).
Multiple Dwelling Law
The AttorneyGeneral asserts that New York Multiple Dwelling Law, Art- 1, §4.8(a)
provides that a Class A dwelling is " a multiple dwelling that is occupied for permanent
residence purposes", and includes in such class, inter alia, tenements, apartment houses, studio
apartments, duplex apartments, and kitchenette apartments. Such provision mandates that "[a]
class A multiple dwelling shall onlybe used for permanent residence purposes" and provides that
"[f]or purposes of this definition, 'permanent residence purposes' shall consist of occupancyof a
dwelling unit bythe same natural person or familyfor thirtyconsecutive days or more and a
person or familyso occupying a dwelling unit shall be referred to herein as the permanent
occupants of such dwelling unit." Multiple Dwelling Law §304 provides that anyviolation of
the Multiple Dwelling Law constitutes a misdemeanor.
Ms. Ip has averred that she is an investigator in the Internet Bureau of the New York State
AttorneyGeneral's Office and "[sjince Spring 2013" has conducted searches for New York City
based rentals on petitioner's website for "December 2 through December 7, 2013 for one guest"
and for "Listings where you, have the entire place to yourself (Ip Aff., Tf9). She avers that the
website returned "1000+R entals - New York". R espondent argues that such Internet
investigation demonstrates that legal violations are occurring through such listings where
petitioner's Hosts are renting their class A multiple dwelling residences out to a Guest[s] for
periods less than 30 days while not also residing in such residence, as the Multiple Dwellmg Law
requires that a class A multiple dwelling residence be used for permanent residence purposes
onlyand that such purposes require occupancyof a dwelling unit bythe same person or family
for thirtyconsecutive days or more.
Tax Provisions
R espondent asserts that
u
[i]n New York City, hotel rooms are subject to a 14.75% tax"
which is comprised of the New York CityHotel R oom OccupancyTax ("HOT"), the New York
CitySales Tax and the New York State Sales Tax (R espondent's Memo of Law, pg 12). New
York State Tax Law §1101(c) defines a hotel as "[a] building or portion of it which is regularly
used and kept open as such for the lodging of guests". R espondent has submitted an article
wherein petitioner's co-founder asserted that "Airbnb hosts in NYC make $21,000 a year on
average, and some even up to $100,000 a year...". (Ip Aff., Exhibit A). R espondent also asserts
that the New York CityAdmin. Code provides'that an "operator" is anyone operating a hotel in
the cityof New York and that such person must collect the FIOT except that a facilitywill not be
considered a hotel with respect to such tax where rooms or apartments are rented on fewer than
three occasions or for not more than 14 days in the aggregate during anyfour consecutive
quarters or any12-month period ending on the last dayof February(yee NYC Department of
Finance Memorandum of August 23,2011).
R espondent has submitted the affirmation of R andall M. Fox
?
Esq., the Bureau Chief of
the Taxpayer Protection Bureau, who affirms that anyindividual who is required to paythe HOT
must file with the New York CityDepartment of Finance a Certificate of R egistration for each .
location. He affirms that the New York CityDepartment of Finance provided data for 2012
concerning the number of registrations and persons who made filings for the HOT and that the
figures "suggest that the number of individuals who are renting their apartments for short-term
rentals make up a small portion of the people or entities that have either filed Certificates of
R egistration, paid HOT, or are otherwise referenced in the Department of Finance's data". (Fox
Aff, If 8). R espondent asserts that "even the most cursoryreview of the certificates of
registration reveals that the vast majorityof the over 15,000 AirBnBHosts in New York Cityare
not paying HOT." The record before the Court indicates that there are Hosts regularlyusing their
apartments to provide lodging to guests who maynot be complying with the state and local tax
registration and/or collection requirements.
Based upon the facts as alleged in the record before the Court, petitioner's assertions that
a factual predicate has not been established are without merit as there is evidence that a
substantial number of Hosts maybe in violation of the Multiple Dwelling Law and/or New York
State and/or New York Citytax provisions based upon a plain reading of such provisions and,
inter alia, the searches respondent performed and other records submitted byrespondent to the
Court demonstrating that certain of petitioner's Hosts are regularlyusing their apartments to
provide lodging to guests.
2
Petitioner has not demonstrated that Tax Law §1141(a) precludes the issuance of the
subpoena as such provision, as noted bypetitioner, relates to where the respondent is bringing an
action to enforce the payment of taxes.
In light of such submitted proofs of a factual predicate for respondent's investigation into
potentiallyextensive violations of both the Multiple Dwelling Law and the Tax Law, the Court
rejects petitioner's claim that the subpoena constitutes an unfounded fishing expedition.
-7-
Breadth of the Subpoena
A general factual predicate for the issuance of the subpoena has been established. The
subpoena, however, broadlyrequests information for "all Hosts that rent Acconimodation(s) in
New York State". Hie Multiple Dwelling Law provides that its application is to "cities with a
population of three hundred twenty-five thousand or more" (though other cities, towns or villages
mayadopt the provisions of the law) (Multiple Dwelling Law §3). The subpoena, however, is
not limited to New York CityHosts or those who reside in cities, towns or villages that have
adopted the Multiple Dwelling Law, nor is it limited to rentals of less than thirtydays.
Further, with respect to the HOT, such subpoena is again not limited to New York City
Hosts, nor does it take into account the exceptions that respondent acknowledges exist
concerning, inter alia, the tax laws at issue herein, i.e. the exception for "rentals for less than 1,4
days, or for fewer than three occasions during the year (for anynumber of total days)" (pee
R espondent Memo. In Opp., pg 13). Finally, to the extent the New York State Tax Law applies
with respect specificallyto sales taxes that maybe due and owing byNew York State Hosts, such
tax would be due where a building is considered a "hotel" and is "regularlyused and kept open as
such for the lodging of guests" (Tax Law § 110,1 (c)). The subpoena at issue, however, does not
provide anylimitation with respect to petitioner's Hosts (i.e. exempting such Hosts that have
used petitioner's Internet platform onlyonce, or onlyfor verylimited periods).
While petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating that the subpoena is overbroad, as
petitioner argues, a plain reading of the subpoena in light of Multiple Dwelling Law §4 and the
tax provisions and materials at issue meets such burden. Based upon the foregoing, the subpoena
at issue, as drafted, seeks materials that are irrelevant to the inquiryat hand and accordingly,
must be quashed (see D'Alimonte v Kuriansky, 144 AD2d 737, 739 [3d Dept 1988]: "We cannot
countenance a subpoena which seeks materials that clearlyare irrelevant to the matter at hand").
UndulyBurdensome
Petitioner has failed to demonstrate that the subpoena is undulyburdensome. R espondent
seeks, inter alia, the Host's name, address of accommodation, dates of stay, rates, method of
payment and total revenue from the rental. Petitioner, an Internet platform with, per the
Amended Petition (^12) hundreds of thousands of separate (presumably) electronic records, has
failed to establish, other than via conclusoryassertion, that such information is not collected by
petitioner nor readilyaccessible bypetitioner. As to the tax communications respondent is
seeking, respondent notes that it onlyseeks what petitioner has advised its Hosts. Petitioner's
conclusoryassertions that it will be difficult to provide, inter alia, the names, addresses and
contact information of its Hosts and the address of the Accommodations being rented, as well as
anytax communications, if any, that it has provided its Hosts, is insufficient to demonstrate that
the subpoena is undulyburdensome.
3
Unconstitutional Vagueness
Petitioner further asserts that respondent "cannot use its subpoena power as a tool for
enforcing unconstitutionallyvague laws against [AirBnBhosts]" (Pet. Memo of Law, pg 7).
R espondent asserts that the investigation at issue is of AirBnb's Hosts for potential violations of
zoning and tax laws, and accordingly, petitioner lacks standing to argue such statutes application
to its Hosts. Further, respondent asserts that such constitutional challenge is not ripe as there is
no actual controversybetween the Hosts and respondent at this time.
In deteimining whether a matter is ripe for judicial review, "[fjirst, the action must
impose an obligation, denya right or fix some legal relationship as a consummation of the
administrative process. In other words, a pragmatic evaluation [must be made] of whether the
3
In particular, the Court notes the lack of an affidavit from a representative of Petitioner
providing specific information concerning the alleged burden imposed in gathering the
information responsive to the subpoena.
decisionmaker has arrived at a definitive position on the issue that inflicts an actual, concrete
injury. Further, there must be a finding that the apparent harm inflicted bythe action maynot be
prevented or significantlyameliorated byfurther administrative action or bysteps available to the
complaining party" (Gordon v. Rush, 100 NY2d 236 [2003] [citations and quotations omitted]).
"Vagueness challenges to statutes not threatening First Amendment interests are examined in
light of the facts of the case at hand; the statute is judged on an as-applied basis" (Arriaga v
Mukasey, 521 F3d 219 [2d Cir 2008], quotingMaynardv Cartwright, 486 US 356, 361 [1988]).
Based upon the record, anyarguments concerning the constitutional vagueness of statutes
that respondent may, at some point in the future attempt to applyto petitioner's Hosts, are not
ripe for review. R espondent has not filed anyaction or attempted to enforce against any
individuals or entities the laws at issue and accordingly, such challenges are for such time.
Confidentiality
Petitioner also contends that the subpoena seeks "confidential, private information" from
petitioner's users ["including the Host's: (a) name, physical and email address, and other contact
information; (b) Website user name; (c) address of the Accommodations) rented, including unit
or apartment number; (d) the dates, duration of guest stay, and the rates charged for the rental of
each associated Accommodation; (e) method of payment to Host including account information;
and (f) total gross revenue per Host generated for the rental of each Accommodation"] as well as
"tax-related communications" (Petitioner's Memo of Law, pg 17). Initially, petitioner has failed
to demonstrate that the requested information is confidential, particularlywhere petitioner's
privacypolicyprovides that petitioner will disclose anyinformation in its sole discretion that it
believes is necessaryto respond to, inter alia, subpoenas. As to such tax-related
communications, petitioner has failed to demonstrate adequate legal authorityto preclude
respondent's request for tax-related communications petitioner has had with its Hosts, including
-10-
tax inquiries or tax document requests. To the extent the subpoena requests tax inquiries or tax
document requests initiated bypetitioner or its Flosts, petitioner has failed to demonstrate that
such subpoena is requesting the disclosure of a Host's tax returns nor that petitioner is in
possession of such information.
Otherwise, the Court has reviewed the parties' remaining arguments and finds them either
unpersuasive or unnecessaryto consider given the Court's determination.
Based on the foregoing, it is hereby
ORDERED that the Court grants petitioner's instant application to quash the subpoena
as overbroad and denies respondent's cross-motion to compel.
This shall constitute both the decision and order of the Court. All papers, including this
decision and order are being returned to petitioner's counsel. The signing of this decision and
order shall not constitute entryor filing under CPLR 2220. Counsel is not relieved from the
applicable provisions of that section relating to filing, entryand notice of entry.
SO OR DER ED.
ENTER .
Dated at Albany, New York
May13, 2014
GER ALD W. CONNOLLY fj
Acting Supreme Court Justice ^
Papers considered:
1. Notice of Petition dated October 9,2013; Amended Verified Petition dated October
25,2013 with accompanying exhibits 1-5; Memorandum of Law in Support of the
Verified Petition; Affirmation of Good Faith dated October 9,2013;
2. Notice of Cross Motion to Compel Compliance with Subpoena dated November 7,
2013; Affidavit of Vanessa Ip in Opposition to Airbnb, Inc.'s Motion to Quash and in
Support of the AttorneyGeneral's Cross-Motion to Compel R esponses to an
InvestigatorySubpoena dated November 1, 2013 with accompanying exhibits A-H;
Affirmation of R andal) M. Fox in, Opposition to Airbnb, Inc.'s Motion to Quash and
in Support of the AttorneyGeneral's Cross-Motion to Compel R esponses to an
-11-
InvestigatorySubpoena dated November 7,2013 with accompanying exhibit A;
Affirmation of Clark P. R ussell in Opposition to Airbnb, Inc.'s Motion to Quash and
in Support of the AttorneyGeneral's Cross-Motion to Compel R esponses to an
InvestigatorySubpoena dated November 7, 2013 with accompanying exhibits 1-10;
Memorandum in Opposition to Airbnb, Inc.'s Motion to Quash and in Support of the
AttorneyGeneral's Cross-Motion to Compel R esponses to an InvestigatorySubpoena
dated November 8,2013 with accompanying exhibits A-B;
3. R eplyMemorandum of Law in Further Support of Airbnb's Motion to Quash dated
November 18,2013;
4. Brief of Amicus Curiae The Internet Association in Support of Petitioner dated
November 7,2013;
5. Brief of Proposed Amici Curiae The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center
for Democracyand Technologyin Support of Petitioner Airbnb dated November 8,
2013.
6. Affidavit of Thorn as Slee in Support of the AttorneyGeneral's R esponse to Amici
Curiae Briefs filed bythe Internet Association, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and
the Center for Democracyand Technologydated November 14,2013; Affidavit of
Senator Liz Krueger in Support of the AttorneyGeneral's R esponse to Amici Curiae
Briefs Filed bythe Internet Association, The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the
Center for Democracyand Technologydated November 14,2013; AttorneyGeneral's
Proposed R esponse to Amici Curiae the Internet Association, The Electronic Frontier
Foundation, and the Center for Democracyand Technologydated November 14
2013.
7. Letter from Petitioner's Counsel dated November 18, 2013.
8. Letter Decision and Order of December 5,2013.
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